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Monday, September 26, 2022
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What Jews Believe, (Hopefully) Humorous Version

In previous versions of this column, I attempted to draw some conclusions about what makes us distinctive as a people, both as Jews and as Joisey-ans. I suggested that one of those distinctive characteristics is that we accept responsibility for our actions. For instance, we admit at various points in our davening that it is because of our sins that we have had many terrible things befall us as a nation. We have certainly been unjustly—and murderously—singled out for our beliefs, but we acknowledge that we are the ones ultimately responsible for our exile from our homeland. Our books talk openly of our triumphs but also of our tragedies.

A number of people who read the column told me that my ideas begged one key question: What about our beliefs has caused us to be singled out? Many gifted authors have asked the question, why the Jews? And I am not going to answer that complex question in the 900 words allotted to me here. But I am going to do one of the things that I believe has allowed us to recover from those once-a-generation attempts to wipe us out. I am going to respond to tragedy with humor.

At the end of weekday Shacharit, when we aren’t rushing out the door to jump in our cars, make carpools, or catch buses to Midtown, we read what is popularly called Ani Ma’amin. It is more formally called the Thirteen Principles of Faith. It is based on Rambam’s “Commentary to Mishnah.” We read a more poetic version of this list of principles when daily davening starts in Yigdal, which we also say at the end of davening on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Without comparing myself in any way to Maimonides, and in the hope of bringing both a bit of humor and perhaps some insight into American Jewish Jersey-ish life, I was curious to see whether I could come up with my own set of these principles, but as seen through the peculiar lens through which we see the world here in Teaneck, specifically in my West Englewood neighborhood.

1) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that there is a street name somewhere within my neighborhood that does not have some direct connection to a town in England, but I have yet to find it.”

2) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that even though we have at least four kosher markets in Teaneck, there is room for at least one more.”

3) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that if I get onto Route 4 before 7, the longest it will take me to get to Midtown is 30 minutes.”

4) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that if I stand precisely between Rinat Yisrael and Bnai Jeshurun at 10:30 a.m. on Shabbos morning and listen very, very carefully, I will get a dvar Torah that is precisely half extraordinarily insightful halachic analysis and half extraordinarily insightful sarcastic political commentary.”

5) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith, and in the name of Rav Kook, zt”l, that there really is room for at least one more vegetarian restaurant in Teaneck.”

6) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that if I daven with perfect concentration, then drive fast enough on the outer circle of one of the mystical Teaneck wagon wheels, and then make a sharp turn, I will magically end up in Efrat.”

7) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that if I wait long enough, a hedge fund multi-millionaire will offer to buy my house for twice what I paid for it, do the same for the one next to me, tear them both down, and build a massive but tasteful eight-bedroom mansion.”

8) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that between EJ’s, Mocha Bleu, Little Italy/Grand & Essex, Pizza Crave, Poppy’s, Sammy’s, etc., etc., more kosher pizza has been happily consumed within the city limits of Teaneck than in any other city in American history.”

9) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that there are more musmachim of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, who sit within ten rows of me at my shul at the 9 a.m. minyan on an average Shabbos morning than the Red Sox have won World Series (and I am a proud New Englander and Sawx fan).”

10) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that I am not the only one in my neighborhood who mows his own grass.”

11) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that I always pick the fastest E-ZPass lane on the GWB.”

12) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that even when I am in an RCBC-mezuman-certified carpool and tell the toll booth attendant that this is the case, I still get charged the non-carpool rate.”

13) “I kind of believe with incomplete faith that while a significant minority of people who read this version of my column will be amused, the majority of people who read it will think this is cheeky and be cheesed off as they sit in their homes on British-named streets.”

By Akiva Covitz

Akiva J. Covitz, Ph.D., is executive vice president of Yeshivot and Ulpanot Bnei Akiva’s North American office. He teaches at Yeshiva University, previously served at Harvard Law School as associate dean and a member of the faculty, and as vice president at the online learning company edX.

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